Republican lawmakers file lawsuit challenging partial vetoes by Evers to student literacy bill

Republican lawmakers filed a lawsuit in Dane County challenging partial vetoes Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers made to a bill that created an early literacy program in the state Department of Public Instruction and grants for schools that adopt approved curricula.

Associated Press

April 18, 2024

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Tony Evers speaks while standing.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks at Madison College, on April 8, 2024, in Madison. On April 16, Republican lawmakers filed a lawsuit challenging the governor's partial veto powers, alleging that he improperly struck sections of a bill that set up a plan to spend $50 million on student literacy. (Credit: AP Photo / Evan Vucci, File)

By Todd Richmond, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican legislators have filed a second lawsuit challenging Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ partial veto powers, this time alleging that he improperly struck sections of a bill that set up a plan to spend $50 million on student literacy.

Republican lawmakers filed their suit on April 16 in Dane County Circuit Court. The action centers on a pair of bills designed to improve K-12 students’ reading performance.

Evers signed the first bill in July 2023. That measure created an early literacy coaching program within the state Department of Public Instruction as well as grants for public and private schools that adopt approved reading curricula. The state budget that Evers signed weeks before approving the literacy bill set aside $50 million for the initiatives, but the bill didn’t allocate any of that money.

The governor signed another bill in February that Republicans argue created guidelines for allocating the $50 million. Evers used his partial veto powers to change the multiple allocations into a single appropriation to DPI, a move he said would simplify things and give the agency more flexibility. He also used his partial veto powers to eliminate grants for private voucher and charter schools.

Republicans argue in their lawsuit that the partial vetoes were unconstitutional. They maintain that the governor can exercise his partial veto powers only on bills that actually appropriate money and the February bill doesn’t allocate a single cent for DPI. They referred to the bill in the lawsuit as a “framework” for spending.

Evers’ office pointed April 18 to a memo from the Legislature’s nonpartisan attorneys calling the measure an appropriations bill.

Wisconsin governors, both Republican and Democratic, have long used the broad partial veto power to reshape the state budget. It’s an act of gamesmanship between the governor and Legislature, as lawmakers try to craft bills in a way that are largely immune from creative vetoes.

The governor’s spokesperson, Britt Cudaback, said in a statement that Republicans didn’t seem to have any problems with partial vetoes until a Democrat took office.

“This is yet another Republican effort to prevent Gov. Evers from doing what’s best for our kids and our schools — this time about improving literacy and reading outcomes across our state,” Cudaback said.

The latest lawsuit comes after Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group, filed a lawsuit on April 15 asking the state Supreme Court to strike down Evers’ partial vetoes in the state budget that locked in school funding increases for the next 400 years.

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